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Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Ryan Bader is one combination away from a second straight win over MMA’s greatest heavyweight.
This Saturday at Bellator 290, which marks the promotion’s debut on CBS, Bader will fight to carve his name into history by becoming the first man to ever defeat Fedor Emelianenko on two separate occasions.
“I couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” says Bader. “I know he’s had his eye on me, and I get that I’m standing in his way. It’s an honor that he asked for me, and I’m a fan of Fedor. As a competitor, I want to be the only one to beat him twice.”
Bader captured the title when he defeated Emelianenko in January 2019, claiming the vacant belt in the finals of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. His picturesque knockout was the result of intense preparation and pristine execution.
The knockout came only 35 seconds into the opening round at The Forum in Inglewood, California, the same venue where the rematch will be held. The winning combo was a perfectly placed left hook, followed by a walk-off right hand.
“If you cross that imaginary line with Fedor, he’s going to go berserk and hit you from all sorts of angles,” says Bader (30-7, 1 NC). “I was testing that line where he was about to throw, so I feinted, and that looping hook caught him. We weren’t envisioning it happening that quickly, but we were definitely thinking we’d catch him with that at some point in the fight. It just happened to be the first punch that was thrown.”
Once Emelianenko hit the ground and could no longer protect himself, Bader was filled with the sweet satisfaction of victory. For someone who has been discounted so often in his career—the UFC passed on Bader after his eight-year run with the company—it was a moment that rewarded all the times he believed in himself, even when it seemed no one else did.
“It was a surreal moment,” Bader says. “I’m fighting Fedor. It was my second belt in two different weight classes. I knocked him out. That was definitely a great night.
“But every fight is different. You can’t rely on a past fight. I’ve had a couple rematches in my career, and the second fight is always a different fight. I’m expecting this to be a very different fight.”
Emelianenko (40-6, 1 NC) is clearly no longer the dominant force he once was. At 46, he is far more one-dimensional than before. But he stands tall as one of the greatest fighting machines in the history of the sport, beginning a run in 2000 that stands up against anyone.
“If this really is his last fight, what an honor,” says Bader. “I won’t lose sight of that, and I know what is in front of me.
“I have a lot of respect for Fedor, but I have a job to do. I am going to finish him, retain that heavyweight championship, and move on.”
Defeating Lewis Would Be Spivak’s Most Significant Win
Tai Tuivasa delivered an attention-grabbing performance when he knocked out Derrick Lewis a year ago. That elevated Tuivasa into the upper echelon of UFC heavyweights, a place he still resides. The same will be said for Sergey Spivak if he dominates Lewis on Saturday.
In order to make a statement, Spivak (15-3) needs to maul Lewis (26-10, 1 NC). That is a big ask. Can he absorb Lewis's spectacular knockout power with a takedown assault and then follow it up with vicious ground-and-pound? That would put a lot of respect on Spivak’s name.
This fight is bound to end in a decision, and the stakes are high. Lewis remains relevant, knocking on the door of the top five, with a win. If Spivak loses, then it is a clear indicator that he is not ready for the title picture. Lewis has become the gatekeeper of the heavyweight division, and Spivak is seeking to break past him.
Change is inevitable. Like running water, it is impossible to stop. And it feels like it is coming to the UFC heavyweight division in Spivak.